“Conspiracy Theory”: Foundations of a Weaponized Term

Subtle and Deceptive Tactics to Discredit Truth in Media and Research

 via Global Research

“Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.

Conspiracy theory’s acutely negative connotations may be traced to liberal historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known fusillades against the “New Right.” Yet it was the Central Intelligence Agency that likely played the greatest role in effectively “weaponizing” the term. In the groundswell of public skepticism toward the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its bureaus. Titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the dispatch played a definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be wielded against almost any individual or group calling the government’s increasingly clandestine programs and activities into question.

This important memorandum and its broad implications for American politics and public discourse are detailed in a forthcoming book by Florida State University political scientist Lance de-Haven-Smith, Conspiracy Theory in AmericaDr. de-Haven-Smith devised the  state crimes against democracy concept to interpret and explain potential government complicity in events such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the major political assassinations of the 1960s, and 9/11.

“CIA Document 1035-960” was released in response to a 1976 FOIA request by the New York Times. The directive is especially significant because it outlines the CIA’s concern regarding “the whole reputation of the American government” vis-à-vis the Warren Commission Report. The agency was especially interested in maintaining its own image and role as it “contributed information to the [Warren] investigation.”

The memorandum lays out a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” For example, approaching “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” to remind them of the Warren Commission’s integrity and soundness should be prioritized. “[T]he charges of the critics are without serious foundation,” the document reads, and “further speculative discussion only plays in to the hands of the [Communist] opposition.”

The agency also directed its members “[t]o employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.”

1035-960 further delineates specific techniques for countering “conspiratorial” arguments centering on the Warren Commission’s findings. Such responses and their coupling with the pejorative label have been routinely wheeled out in various guises by corporate media outlets, commentators and political leaders to this day against those demanding truth and accountability about momentous public events.

  • No significant new evidence has emerged which the [Warren] Commission did not consider.
  • Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others.
  • Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States.
  • Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it.
  • Oswald would not have been any sensible person’s choice for a co-conspirator.
  • Such vague accusations as that “more than ten people have died mysteriously” [during the Warren Commission’s inquiry] can always be explained in some natural way e.g.: the individuals concerned have for the most part died of natural causes.

Today more so than ever news media personalities and commentators occupy powerful positions for initiating propaganda activities closely resembling those set out in 1035-960 against anyone who might question state-sanctioned narratives of controversial and poorly understood occurrences. Indeed, as the motives and methods encompassed in the document have become fully internalized by intellectual workers and operationalized through such media, the almost uniform public acceptance of official accounts concerning unresolved events such as the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing, 9/11, and most recently the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, is largely guaranteed.

The effect on academic and journalistic inquiry into ambiguous and unexplained events that may in turn mobilize public inquiry, debate and action has been dramatic and far-reaching. One need only look to the rising police state and evisceration of civil liberties and constitutional protections as evidence of how this set of subtle and deceptive intimidation tactics has profoundly encumbered the potential for future independent self-determination and civic empowerment.

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One comment on ““Conspiracy Theory”: Foundations of a Weaponized Term

  1. Abandon TV says:

    The concept of the ‘conspiracy theory’ is heavily emphasised in our culture to train us to associate ‘conspiracy’ with ‘theory’ (ie speculation, belief, hearsay).

    It’s not just the subject of conspiracy which is being targeted in this way…. as information technology (most notably the web) has allowed us to bypass the heavily controlled mainstream media and inform ourselves, as well as share and discuss our knowledge, we’ve seen an increasing attempt to characterise ALL ‘unauthorised’ knowledge in terms of theory, speculation, belief.

    Not only are we being told repeatedly that certain subjects are ‘theories’, we are being told that certain subject cannot ever BE any more than ‘theories’, ‘speculation’ etc – as if knowledge (facts, evidence, logical conclusions etc) about these particular subjects is impossible to attain.

    This is like telling the public over and over that when your car breaks down we can never hope to achieve anything more than mere theories and speculation about what caused it. Maybe it’s a problem in the fuel line?…. or maybe the spark plugs are dirty?….. or maybe the battery is flat?…… I dunno… what’s your theory?

    Obviously, the way to find out the truth about the car (and sidestep the need for theorising and speculating) is to do a series of tests and observations on the car which produce useful verifiable evidence, from which we can draw definitive conclusions. (I took it to the garage.. they tested the battery and found it was flat).

    The same evidence-based approach could easily be used on events such as 9/11 to determine what happened. (In fact it HAS been used and the results were published two years ago and used to sue NIST for science fraud). Determining WHAT happened must be the first step. But before anybody even started to determine WHAT happened on 9/11 we were all encouraged (not least by the mainstream media) to start theorising and speculating about who did it. But the ‘it’ (the actual crime) was never properly established.

    It’s like finding a dead body and immediately asking “Who shot this man? I think it was his ex girlfriend… or maybe it was the employee he fired last week… or maybe it was an armed robbery… somebody told me he was into drugs so maybe it was a drug dealer who shot him….. or maybe he shot himself..”

    Hang on a minute…. let’s first look to see if the body even has a bullet wound or not!

    And so this ‘conspiracy theory culture’ we’ve all seen being hyped in the media (including the so called ‘alternative media’) is actually the best way to keep conspiracies protected, rather than exposed. As long as everyone is discussing, arguing, debating a bunch of theories and speculation the conspiracy is safe. This is because (by definition) theories and speculation are not the same as facts or truth. Believing something is not the same as knowing it. You cannot convict someone of a crime based on a theory.

    The other aim of ‘conspiracy theory culture’ is to subtly promote the idea of an essentially non-conspiratorial world. By promoting the idea of a ‘conspiracy’ operating in, say, government or some corporation you are automatically defining that group as NON-conspiratorial by default. This is a powerful subliminal message which no doubt shapes people’s world views.

    ‘Conspire’ is derived from ‘spire’ and ‘con’ meaning ‘to breathe as one’, or to ‘breathe together’. In reality everybody ‘conspires’ all the time. If you run your own cake baking business you will spend most of your time conspiring with your colleagues to find ways to manipulate your customers and outwit your competitors. To suggest the people who run corporations, governments, the military industrial complex, the corporate media etc don’t also conspire on a daily basis is absolutely absurd.

    Of course ‘conspiracy’ also implies a form of conspiring which is in some way immoral and / or unlawful. A cake baking business can conspire with ruthless cunning and sophistication (inventing effective marketing strategies etc) but without necessarily doing anything immoral. Whoever planned, carried out and then covered up 9/11 was conspiring in the same basic way as the cake business, only they obviously had no problem with straying into the realm of immoral and criminal acts.

    Big deal. So the world is full of evil people – especially those who have fought their way to the top of the violent hierarchy.

    And so claiming there might be ‘conspiracies’ operating among the ruling classes is rather like suggesting there might be some dogs in Kansas who lick their bums. In both cases it subtly implies the ruling classes in general don’t conspire, and that dogs in general don’t lick their bums. Only those accused of being part of the ‘conspiracy’ behave in that way.

    A conspiracy theory (or any other theory) only has value when it can be proved to be conspiracy fact. And so if people want the truth, they should be looking to establish facts (evidence), rather than trying to promote their own theories, or attack other people’s.

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